This past February, I rented a car and drove nearly three hundred miles from Queenstown, New Zealand to Christchurch by myself. It was my second solo vacation Down Under, having ventured to Sydney, Australia the year before. I’d never driven in a country with left-hand traffic, and I was excited but fearful. Initially, I booked a one-way flight from Queenstown to Christchurch, the final leg of my New Zealand trip. After bungy jumping, white water rafting and canyon swinging in the adventure capital of the world, I felt an urge to maintain that thrill-seeking spirit, so I canceled my flight, hired a car, as the Kiwis say, and hit the highway.
In the month before my trip, I taught myself how to do roundabouts and drive on the left side of the road by watching YouTube videos and memorizing as much of the New Zealand road code as I could. My diligence paid off. On the nearly six-hour drive from Queenstown to Christchurch, I navigated my little gold rental as if I’d owned her for years. For long stretches at a time, I was the only car on a two-lane highway bordered by apple orchards, lakes and sheep. I was able to experience a beautiful, scenic region of Godzone that I would have otherwise missed on a plane.
As much as I love to travel, driving didn’t come easy to me. I reluctantly got my license at 17, after months of taking lessons from my mother. I was so nervous behind the wheel that one of our sessions ended with me mistaking the gas pedal for the brake and ramming into my cousin Emma Lou’s garage door. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but my ego took a bruising when my relatives rushed outside, alarmed by the noise. Over the years, I grew to love being in the driver’s seat, especially when it comes to taking road trips. Just give me gas money and a mixtape, and I’m lost in a mobile utopia.
As of this writing, I’ve logged nearly 8,000 miles on the Beckyville Bookmobile since August 1, 2011. Over the next week, my mother Lola, my road dog, and I will rack up about 3,000 more as we make our way back to the West Coast. The ride has not been an easy one. When I was at my lowest, wondering whether I should abandon my dreams or surge forward with this crazy mission of mine, I was reminded that life is a journey on a winding road, and there are going to be some potholes along the way. No matter how frustrated I get with the plodding pace of my dreams, nothing will ever make me lose my spirit of adventure. I am a woman who jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet over the Blue Mountains of Australia. I am also a woman who soared 1,300 feet above Queenstown with nothing but a harness and my prayers to keep me from plunging to the earth. I am a woman who drove from one region of New Zealand to another by myself, with nothing but my gospel CDs to keep me company. My adventures abroad prepared me for moments of uncertainty that I seem to be living in now.
In a few hours, Lola and I will once again gas up our dainty purple chariot and leave Norristown, PA en route to a book signing at More Hair! Studio in Baltimore. I thought it was fitting to celebrate our return trip at a salon since I kicked off my book tour at a beauty shop in Los Angeles and black women’s hair is a prominent theme in Escape from Beckville.
Although I’m unsure about where this next leg of the tour will take me, I’m anxious to get on the road, if for nothing else but to feel some forward momentum. The thousands of miles I’ve driven in the states and abroad remind me to cherish the journey and behold the beauty along the way, whether it’s a shimmering milky blue lake in New Zealand or the solitary sunflower bobbing in the wind on the side of the road in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Here’s to new frontiers, the open road and the courage to drive it.